Three Takeaways from CES 2018 and What They Mean for Marketers

Another CES wrapped up last week in Las Vegas, where some 100,000+ people from all over the world—from electronic companies and tech giants to agencies and the media—inundated The Strip to bug out on gadgets, check out the latest technological innovations, and watch robots of all shapes and sizes perform various tasks ranging from mundane household chores to crowd surveillance (Yes. Frightening). But for those CES-ers who felt like taking a break from drone races and getting their faces scanned by single-tread security robots, there were entire tracks and sessions in other locations that focused on how these tech innovations might impact the marketing landscape and, in some ways, already are. The track was entitled C-Space: Marketing Reinvented, and it was here where CXOs and leaders from brands like Roku, AB InBev, NatGeo, Hulu, Facebook, Campbell’s, Best Buy, Google and Hyundai discussed, exchanged stories, and even argued about one fundamental question: What kind of impact does all this tech have on marketing? Here are three takeaways.

1. Always. Be. Optimizing: Good Artificial Intelligence Requires a Human Touch.

Artificial intelligence was nothing if not a darling of CES 2018, at least for those at the C-Space panels and discussions. Primarily because, if anything, AI is already very firmly embedded in our martech and adtech stacks, and automation and optimization engines, whether we realize it or not. It also happens to be a catchall phrase for the when-robots-will-take-all-our-jobs sentiment that is currently at large in certain industrial and economic circles, depending on who you talk to. One of the more interesting discussions on AI covered the evolution of tech-driven creative, and the role of the brand vs. the role of the ad. For example, one panelist argued the need of measuring creative effectiveness vs. measuring media effectiveness, positing that they are not one and the same. And despite the fact that AI offers a massive opportunity to optimize creative across all communications channels (i.e., a tool to scale), it requires an undeniably human element—as one put it, a “creative spark”—to deliver experiences that truly resonate on a brand-to-consumer level. Take the case of Campbell’s use of IBM Watson to serve up 1,070 unique creative versions of content, images and recipe recommendations based on Google search parameters in real-time. That’s a lot of soup. But the Watson library, despite allowing for unique recipes and dynamic creative, stills needs to be taught that soy sauce and chocolate is not a good combination (trust me, folks). In other words, the ability to achieve this level of optimization is not out of the gate. Key Takeaway: There’s a human on the other end. Artificial intelligence must always start with the question: What am I solving for and why?

2. Content Is (Your Own Personal) King.

The role of content, its consumption and how and when it is delivered (and to whom) is changing at a rapid clip. So much so that it dominated several panels, touching heavily on the fragmented content consumption landscape that is disrupting the way we view, choose, interact, and engage with brands. This has enormous implications on marketing—traditional above-the-line mass media is making its way into the realm of 1:1 engagement as players like Hulu, Sky TV, Roku, and even Amazon are creating and delivering hyper-niche channels, content, and a la carte experiences. Roku, for example, has around 5000 different available channels, which can make content discovery difficult and advertising frequency (and fatigue) a problem, something the likes of which Comcast is unable to address. But OTT providers like Roku are beginning to be able to optimize both content and advertising through machine learning to, over time, deliver uniquely catered content, recommendations, and ads based on behavior modeling. The nature and format of content is also changing. Take, for example, Nike founder Phil Knight commissioning NatGeo to partner with and be the platform of telling the story of Knight’s aspiration of marathon runners breaking the two-hour threshold. You might be thinking, NatGeo? As in National Geographic, the 130-year-old publishing company? Yes. And the same NatGeo who boasts being the biggest brand on social (85M followers on Instagram alone), able to create and deliver on a global scale, in 41 languages. The result was Breaking Two, the first-ever, uninterrupted, hour-long documentary. No ads for Nike. No spots. Just resonating and passionate storytelling. Key Takeaway: The dual revenue streams of subscriptions and ads and the data and preferences it generates will both fund and drive evermore personalized experiences for a once nearly immeasurable channel.

3. Let me help you with that. The Realm of Assistance is the New Marketing Battleground.

At least according to Google. And safe to say, they’re probably not too far off. Today’s consumers are more empowered, more demanding and more impatient than ever—existing in a near-constant state of mobile-driven micro moments. Nice alliteration, you say, but that’s a marketing cliché, a buzzword-rich example to stoke fear and adoption of new technologies and new platforms. Perhaps. But let me paint a scenario for you: you’re in your car driving to work in the morning, stopped at a red light. You get a notification from a retailer, a BOGO email from an on-the-fence brand of yours, or a sudden reminder of something you want to either quickly research or need to pick up later. Since the average commuter knows that the average traffic light cycle is 120 seconds (bear with me), you decide to race the clock. You’re thinking you’ve got more than ample time to research, search, find the closest location, check if it’s in-stock and, if time permits, even purchase the darned thing so you can pick it up after work. We’ve all done this. Or some iteration of this. How often do we complete this task? How often are we frustrated that the light turned green before we satisfied our curiosity, urge, impulse, or need-to-know? This is mobile’s effect on consumer behavior, and consumers expect fast, personal, helpful, and frictionless shopping, red light or no. Assistance is the quiet, negative space in marketing, but that which is driving tangible returns and experiences through a ninja-like marketing ecosystem—algorithms, data, location, logistics, and ecommerce—creating personal, relevant, and predictive experiences in 120 seconds or less. Key Takeaway: Brands and marketers who succeed in elevating 1:1 consumer experiences will do so by investing in assistance as a differentiator.